“Set our hearts on fire with love for You, O Christ our God, so that in its flame we may
love You with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with all our strength, and
our neighbors as ourselves, so that by keeping Your commandments we may glorify You, the
giver of all good gifts.”
Here is a prayer to fix in your memory and reflect upon each time you light a candle and say a prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ. You are setting a flame before Him which represents the warmth of affection for God. Is it really burning love, or just some gesture your parents taught you to perform upon entering the church? Or may it be that some resentment in your heart for an unanswered prayer keeps you from complete adoration. It can be that you walk about under an invisible cloud of depression or doubt, or guilt over some sin that you cannot eradicate from your soul.
By the light cast from the candle onto the icon you see in His eyes the gaze into your soul’s depths. Do you want to acknowledge what you know is there and which is known to Him as well? Can the Lord recognize His image mirrored from your heart? Or is there a dark spot you prefer to hide from Him, like Adam concealing himself in the bushes of Eden, as though he could keep the Lord from seeing his shameful act?
Do you truly love the Lord with all your heart, and all your mind, or is there something or even somebody more important to you than He? When you pay attention to the prayers you recite, you realize they are challenges put to yourself. They give us pause to meditate on the gap between the person we are and the one we are intended to be.
When asked by people of other faiths if we “still” light candles, we reply, “Of course we do.” We “still” keep the traditions of our honored ancestors in the true faith not because we are antiquarians, but because these customs have never lost their potency as catalysts uniting us with God. Centuries before Princess Diane’s funeral hymn by Elton John, when he sung about a candle in the wind, Orthodox Christians have known the meaning of standing firm in a hurricane of unbelief holding onto the flame of faith in a world bent on blowing out the light of Christ and celebrating the darkness. Each Pascha night all believers light thin tapers that join the other candles in a glow of light uniting us on earth with the saints, the angels, and the Lord Himself. We all feel their precious presence in our hearts. We know the emotion of filling the blackness of the Church with the illumination from hundreds of candles, to go in search of the living Lord outside in the night’s darkness where an unfriendly world works its will on our feeble attempts to protect the light. We cherish the mutual concern which goes on sharing the flame with one another taking light from light.
Finally we realize that it’s not candles but our souls which God fashioned to hold the spiritual fire of love for Him and for all that He created. Look closely at a true icon and notice that the origin of light comes not from an external source, but from within. Moses returning from Mount Sinai glowed with the same intensity which the three apostles witnessed on the Transfiguration mountain. The candle you place before the Lord is a metaphor of the fire and light within your soul. Your whole life’s purpose is to intensify its warmth and illumination.